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John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale - Mad River Brewing Company

Not Rated.
John Barleycorn Barleywine AleJohn Barleycorn Barleywine Ale

Educational use only; do not reuse.

357 Reviews

(Read More)
Reviews: 357
Hads: 498
Avg: 3.74
pDev: 12.83%
Wants: 19
Gots: 28 | FT: 1
Brewed by:
Mad River Brewing Company visit their website
California, United States

Style | ABV
American Barleywine |  11.40% ABV

Availability: Winter

Notes & Commercial Description:
Beer added by: DOCALYN on 09-23-2001

Same recipe each year. ABV varies slightly 9.5-11.0%
Beer: Reviews & Ratings
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters | Read the Alström Bros Beer Reviews and Beer Ratings of John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale Alström Bros
Reviews: 357 | Hads: 498
Photo of BeerlyLegal
4.5/5  rDev +20.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I had a 2011 12oz bottle poured into a tulip.

In my opinion this is a damn good barley wine and a bit surprised by BA's ratings. Maybe a little bit too sweet for some, but overall a beautiful brew with an 11.1% ABV that sneaks up on you nicely.

I scented a cheese plate with grapes and apples.

I tasted a caramel syrupy flavor mixed with hints of dark fruit, molasses and malt. With that said, you would think this is a sticky beer however it has a very smooth finish that allows you down it quite easily. I would love to get my hands on this again.

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Photo of evilkalla
3.19/5  rDev -14.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.25

Serving: 2009 vintage bottle into an ale glass. I drank a couple of these soon after purchase and they were a little harsh, so I've left them on the shelf for a few years. Figured it was time to see if they have improved.

A: Poured thick, slightly hazy, with a small amount of carbonation. Deep amber/brown color. Has a thin film of a head which receded quickly.

S: Has a slightly sweet malty smell to it, but all traces of hops have vanished. Not surprising given the age.

T: The slightest bitterness, with a strong flavor of dark caramel malt. The alcohol is noticeable but not offensive. It has improved a fair amount since I tasted it about three years ago. Overall, a fair but middle of the road barley wine.

M: Thick mouthfeel which is expected given the amount of malt in this beer. Not bad.

O: This is a barley wine that was not very good when it was younger, but improved a bit with a little aging. Still doesn't blow your socks off but it has a relatively mild flavor which isn't offensive.

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Photo of AmitC
4.03/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

Poured the 2011 limited release from a 12 oz bottle into a snifter.

Clouded Brown color. a lot of suspensions and haze. Dirty. About half finger thick tan colored head that stays well as a layer. Decent to excellent lacing on the sides. Almost opaque. Calm.

Aroma still has a lot of hops coming through and at first smell it comes of as an earthy IPA. A good amount of malts and a very typical Barleywine style aroma with a good mix and interplay of earthy, ground hops and strong malts. Very slight alcohol warmth that comes through. A lot of bready and some caramel notes come through in the nose.

Taste is just decent. Again very typical. Some sweetness of malts and hidden yet coming through bitter hops. A good amount of booze and very good alcohol warmth. Finish is semi dry to slightly bitter sweet.

Mouth feel is heavy medium to almost full bodied with a very good chewing texture. Some booze that shines or what looks to be killing the rating of others. No astringency except for 11.1% ABV.

I like it and it drinks good. However, i would not buy it again just because of its price.

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Photo of Beaver13
3/5  rDev -19.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

12 oz bottle. Pours dark murky copper red with a small off-white head that quickly goes to a thin collar.

The aroma is sweet caramel malt with some dark fruit, molasses and alcohol.

The flavor is sweet sugary caramel malts with dark fruit and a medium bitter finish with a big harsh alcohol burn. The mouthfeel is medium to full bodied with low but spritzy carbonation.

Overall, it's an ok barley wine but not well balanced - too sweet with lots of harsh bitter alcohol.

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Photo of tdm168
4.25/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

A - dark amber with a thin white lacing that fades rather quickly; there are some hops floating in the rather dense liquid

S - sugary, bready, cake batter, citrusy hop aromas

T - caramel, bread, candy sugar, birthday cake, citrus, bitter finish

M - full bodied, warm, well carbonated

This is a really nice, balanced barleywine. It's incredibly malty and sweet, but the hops are also intense and balance the flavor. The ABV is well hidden adding only some warmth to the mouthfeel. For 11% this is dangerously drinkable. I really enjoyed this one. I will definitely pick it up again.

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Photo of portia99
3.21/5  rDev -14.2%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

2008 vintage (9.1% on the bottle) 12oz bottle poured into a Brooklyn snifter.

A - Pours a muddy brown color touched with amber. Lots of haze and floating particles throughout. Low off-white/tan head.

S - A touch tart, fruity and astringent. Lots of caramel and toffee malt aromas, sweet and sugary. A bit yeasty and somewhat boozy.

T - Underlying hop bitterness, a bit medicinal. Earthy and grainy malt, fruity - a bit apple and grape-like. Caramel sweetness, brown sugar, burnt sugar. Fair amount of oxidation in this 4+ year old twist off bottle.

M - Body is rather thin...surprisingly so. Carbonation is lively and at a higher level with a firm tingle on the tongue. Alcohol is noticeable but only mildly giving a faint touch of warmth. Hops give a bit of a medicine-like bitterness.

O - Overall, just an average barleywine. This is a well aged bottle showing a fair amount of oxidation. The age is obviously showing a bit here and really isn't doing this much service. Better fresh?...I don't know, but as this is just an average barleywine. I wouldn't turn it away, but not anywhere near the top end of the range for this style.

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Photo of cocojoe
3.51/5  rDev -6.1%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

This is a 2011 version coming in at 11.1% ABV

A: Cloudy caramel brown color with amber hues. Very little head.

S: Sweet, floral, caramel, toasty, cashews, figs

T: Super thick and sweet front, really smoothe and thick the whole way through, caramel and dark fruit, some really dark notes as well, subtle roasty notes. Definitely an American barleywine, has a fairly strong hop presence as well. Finishes a little flat for me.

M: Thick, sweet, full body

O: Not my favorite American style barley wine. The aroma is really nice, but something in the flavor is lacking a bit. Not a whole

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Photo of mdfb79
3.88/5  rDev +3.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

From 12/18/12 notes. Had this on tap at Beer Authority in NYC.

a - Pours a brown amber color with two inches of fluffy off white head and moderate carbonation evident.

s - Smells of chocolate, roasted malts, dark fruits, toasted malts, and some sugar. A little sweet but a ton of chocolate. Some light alcohol.

t - Tastes of milk chocolate, dark chocolate, roasted malts, toasted malts, toffee, caramel malts, burnt malts, light dark fruits. Taste again has a ton of chocolate, even more than the nose. The caramel is nice too; better than the nose.

m - Medium body and low to moderate carbonation. Body is pretty smooth, with no real alcohol coming through in the taste or mouthfeel at all.

o - Overall a pretty good barleywine, though different than most because it has a ton of chocolate and roasted malts. Taste is very good with nice caramel as well, and no real alcohol heat. Would like to have it again sometime.

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Photo of Scotchboy
3.92/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

2011 12oz bottle poured into a New Belgium Globe.

A: Dark ruby-brown pour yield a nearly opaque body in the glass...off yellow head settles into a constant ring, and traces of alcohol legs are visible on the glass.

S: Strong malty presence with a moderate dark berry note underneath...moderate sweetness and some sugary notes. Faintest suggestion of a floral hop or even citrus?

T: Toffee and lightly toasted caramel...basically, miles of sugary malt. That berry note comes though again as well as a noticeable alcohol heat that doesn't distract. Faint suggestion of citrus again.

MF: Moderate-to-full bodied with a faint sticky sensation...a touch viscous. Dry alcohol faintly sticks to the back of the throat. Carbonation is light.

O: Its a pretty decent aged barleywine, and I'm kind of surprised more fans of the English (malt-forward) style don't like this one. I prefer these strong beers with more of a hop presence.

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Photo of mschind
3.47/5  rDev -7.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2011 batch from a 12 oz bottle

A- Looks viscous as it pours and not much head. Clear, dark brown color.

S- Malty with some molasses and brown sugar.

T- Very sweet up front followed by a modest bitter twang and then strong alcohol and maybe some hops in the finish.

M- Syrupy and lacking in carbonation.

O- Maybe this needs some age to mellow out the alcohol and bring out some complexity. However, this would work well with a rich dessert like cheese cake or tiramisu.

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Photo of FosterJM
3.78/5  rDev +1.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

1634th Review on BA
Bottle to Snifter

2011 Release
Purchased a single bottle at Total Wine, Rancho Cucamonga, CA

App- A dark murky ruddy brownish dense color with a small 1/2" head that was a little bit of tan color. A small head was there and fell quickly. A little bit of a cling on a good swirl was present as well.

Smell- A little bit more of a grainular malty beer. It was still a pretty potent BW aroma. Malty, caramel, sweetness and boozy. A little sugary and plum like to me.

Taste- I am not convinced this was an American BW. This was more malt forward with more a subtle hop bitterness. The heavy flavors dominanted in the glass are sweet malts, caramel with a mild astringent flavor. I would say some over ripe citrus on the back of this one as well.

Mouth- A fuller medium body with a solid medium carbontion. The residual flavors are off caramel, astringent fruits and some brown sugar grain malts. Was pretty solid.

Drink- A nice barleywine but nothing too fancy or overwhelming. A solid above average and on the border of being great. Id have again or just age a couple if I find more.

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Photo of DocJitsu
4.05/5  rDev +8.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

I couldn't tell if I was pouring beer into a pint glass or oil into my car's engine. Pours a murky deep amber color with a big, fat, fluffy, light tan head. The head kept growing even after I'd finished my pour. I was worried I'd gotten too aggressive and that my desk next to my keyboard was going to be sticky for a while.

Toffee, brown sugar, and cinnamon rolls on the nose. A thick, slick liquid swells in your mouth with the first pull. A lot of sweet stuff in there. Not enough alcohol flavor or warmth to account for the 11% ABV. There is a bit of tartness that cuts the sweet explosion. The tartness, mind you, is the same you'd get from a sweet cherry sucker and not from an unripe banana or a grapefruit. My only criticism is that it finishes a little too quickly. Once it does finish, there's a bit of bitter alcohol that remains on the tongue. Not bad though.

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Photo of SLeffler27
4.12/5  rDev +10.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A creamy, dense, chestnut head reaches two inches after cascading up from a clear, dark, iridescent ruby beer. The Dogfish Head snifter contains this head for a long time, ultimately receiving a coating of lace.

The aroma is dominated by sweet pitted fruits. Plums, dates, and black cherries come to mind first with some raspberry, oak and brandy layers coming out as it warms.

The flavors follow the nose, however, are less distinct. Some tea with moderate bitterness and light astringency are found in the middle. After the finish takes hold, floral hops come out.

A full body with silky texture and ample, soft carbonation. The alcohol is warming with a light astringency.

This is a fine sipping beer that unfolds with a progressive story suitable for conversation or a meal, but likely best late at night. This sample aged two years in the cellar.

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Photo of Odysseyalien
4.22/5  rDev +12.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Single bottle found at Cable Beverage, Nanuet, NY. I may also have had this on tap back during the Spring of 2012 at the Blind Tiger in Manhattan. When I found this at Cable Beverage though I wasn't sure if it was a British or American barleywine. I almost never drink American barleywines as I don't care to mix my beloved DIPAs with my beloved British barleywines. (American barleywines are usually hopped up compared to the British.)

So it was a very pleasant surprise to open this bottle and find that it was only moderately hoppy. The head was only about an inch deep and dissipated fairly quickly. Lacing on the glass was slight to say the least but I have no problem with that.

The smell -- molasses, raisins, dark fruit. The taste -- molasses, slightly sweet...just the right amount of sweetness to make it welcome as a dessert or after dinner beer or a nice mid-afternoon refresher.

Was there some real age on this bottle to make it less hoppy and thus more pleasant? I don't know. I do know that I want to get some more and open my mind to more American barleywines. This was a real pleasant surprise and I'm glad I found it.

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Photo of ArrogantB
4.1/5  rDev +9.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

12oz bottle that I picked up for $2.50, should have bought a whole four pack. I was a little hesitant given the high ABV but I love barleywine so why not tick a new one? Ruby red color, decent head at first but then it was only a memory. Initial aroma of fruit, malts, barleywine. First taste was cherry cough syrup but once I let it warm up it really came alive. Good flavors of fruit, brown sugar, barleywine, not really even a hint of hops which is fine. This is pretty good stuff, I might have to buy a four pack to age a year just to see how it does.

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Photo of AgentMunky
4.01/5  rDev +7.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Poured from a 12 ounce bottle into a brandy snifter. Vintage 2010. 10.0%.

A: Very little head, but good lacing tops a red-brown beer. Translucent edges, opaque core.

S: Sticky caramel malt, a touch of hops, and light fruit. A huge malt base.

T: A very pleasant blend of bitter (English?) hops and heavy caramel-brown sugar malt. Bright fruit, smackworthy toffee, and an endtaste that was more bitter than sweet.

M: Good carbonation, considering the heavy sweetness and relative age. Nice.

O: An excellent barleywine. One of the first 'real' beers I ever tasted, and one that has only improved with time. Highly recommended, if a bit on the sweet side. More or less well-balanced.

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Photo of PDXHops
2.48/5  rDev -33.7%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

Vintage 2010 12-ounce bottle poured into a DFH snifter. A viscous-looking beer for sure; looks kinda like hazy sorghum. Just a whiff of foam on top, but periodic swirls confirm that there's not shortage of carbonation here.

Plenty of toffee and caramel in the nose, with light grape, raisin and baked apple notes. I'm not sure when this was bottled, but even if it was the last day of 2010, there's still a surprisingly potent dose of bitterness in this stuff. Earthy and burnt flavors join in to provide a counterpoint to the sweetness. The fruitiness isn't as pronounced as I'd guessed it would be, and something's a little lacking here. Instead of a coating, lingering warm feel, it almost finishes clean and a tad on the thin side. This could be quite nice with a few tweaks, I reckon.

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Photo of StoneTSR
3.86/5  rDev +3.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

APPEARANCE: Nice looking beer. Typical Barleywine mahogany color and a head that is nearly locked in place.

SMELL: Chocolate comes through strongest, followed by a little caramel malt and dark fruit.

TASTE: Semi-sweet maltiness begins the sip along with some dark fruit; cherries and a little strawberry. Citrus and hops return about half way through the sip to wash away the sweetness, but then at the last minute a wave of brown sugar pulls it back and balances it again.

MOUTHFEEL: Creamy and smooth, the Barleycorn walks the line between between sweet and dry, but ultimately comes down on the dry side.

OVERALL: The Barleycorn certainly improves with some warmth and air. It was served to me at about 45 degrees, but after sitting for a bit, it really showed itself off for what it is, a nice, solid Barleywine.

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Photo of BarryMFBurton
3.81/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

I’ve been told that Mad River Brewing is the California beer scene’s best kept secret – with a moniker like that, deciding whether to buy a bottle of their barleywine wasn’t much of a thought. So here’s to hidden gems (hopefully)!

Brewed about two years before the date of this tasting (it is labeled as “John Barleycorn 2010 Barleywine” on the label).

A: This barleywine pours a bit brown, but with an overall burnt orange color. There isn’t a lot of head here, showing just a tiny hint of tan oiliness suspended over the body for just a second. Retention is nothing, lacing is dark and micro-bubbled; an odd-looking brew, with quite a greasy profile.

S: Impressively aromatic: robust caramel, vanilla, dark chocolate, and Scotch scents. It’s boozy, rich, and unabashedly bold. Malt is thick with cherry, toffee, maple syrup, oak, and mocha; an excellent presentation for the style. I love the richness of this beer, especially as it’s mixed with a nice dark bitterness – roasts, pine, and an earthy astringency. It’s old ale mixed spicy alcohol, a combination I adore.

T: This palate is all about power: roasted barley, toasted chocolate malt, salted caramel, bourbon, cherry cordial, and crusty bread. It comes forward with a dry, darkly acidic flavor, remaining salty on the tongue with an overarching lemon, piney, chocolate-covered strawberry tartness. Earthy tastes of wood, mild coffee, leather, and molasses; it’s an enjoyable mix of musky, dark complexity. The aftertaste is bitter syrup, mouthcoating in its sugariness, but with enough astringent capability to call this finish resiny.

M: As carbonated as the head suggested, just a hint of bubble peeking out from beneath the oily body. Mouthcoating in its palate, though it still has a buoyant dryness to it.

O: This beer is much more than admirable – it’s fantastic. What a great introduction to Mad River. Glad to have multiple different bottles in the fridge!

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Photo of Greywulfken
4.35/5  rDev +16.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Just a quick heads-up: the beer I drank has the label shown on this website for the "bourbon-barrel aged" barley wine, but nothing on the label indicates this is the case - but my bottle's abv is 10.0, which matches neither the bourbon barrel aged barleywine nor the "standard" barleywine brewed by Mad River Brewing. My belief is that I had their main barleywine style beer, and since it had no notes of bourbon in smell or taste, I'll have to assume that they changed the label from the one currently shown, and that the abv has changed as well. My bottle is a 2010 bottling date.

A: super dark - looks black, but held up to the light is a deep brown, head is lost to lace

S: sweet malts, some coffee/toffee w/ caramel

T: must confess, this is my 3rd barleywine in a row, and the only one that fully warmed to room temp before drinking - very delicious: notes of malt, toffee, caramel, and some distant hops

M: soft, slightly syrupy, slightly sticky, but (beware) infinitely drinkable

O: maybe I'm a barleywine guy - third tonight - started with the Uinta Anniversary Barleywine, then tried a Harpoon Leviathan Barleywine, and now this. There is no standout in this trio - they are all excellent and I would drink them all again and again - but noticed that the John Barleycorn was the sweetest of the 3, but unfortunately, as stated, it was also allowed to warm to room temp before beginning to drink, so this may have had an impact on sweetness and taste. My "3-strong-beers-in" perspective: if you like or are curious about this style of beer, you have nothing to lose by trying any or all of these beers. Clearly, Mad River has made an excellent beer, and I can easily recommend it.

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Photo of Arbitrator
2.81/5  rDev -24.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

I'm on a mission to stop trading (stop laughing) and to appreciate my local selection, so I grabbed a 4-pack of this at my local store. I enjoyed the bourbon-barrel aged version I tried at Beer Revolution recently, so I thought the time was ripe to give the base beer a shot.

Review of the 2010 vintage, according to the label (?). When I picked this up in 2012, I was told it was the latest batch. Odd.

A: Pours a ruby-amber body that glows more on the reddish spectrum when held against the light. It pours with a generous beige head that retains fairly well for a beer of its gravity, eventually collapsing into a thin collar.

S: The aroma isn't particularly strong, but it hits the barleywine notes I'd expect: slight notes of grape, caramel, toffee. There isn't much depth to the aroma.

T: Slight roast and earth. I pick up grape (oxidation?) as well as caramel and toffee. Moderate bitterness that balances the sweeter flavors. The finish is dry, which is interesting, but it accentuates how thin the beer feels (see below).

M: This is light for the style; it leaves me wanting a bit more heft. No alcohol, which is a plus, but the thin-ness is a detriment to the beer.

O: This is surprisingly mediocre. I say surprisingly because the barrel-aged version was truly outstanding (I even made a second trip out to Beer Revolution to grab another glass). It was worth trying, but I don't think I'll pick it up again.

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Photo of LiquidAmber
3.88/5  rDev +3.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured into a Gulden Draak tulip. Pours a dark red red amber with ruby undertones. Thin layer of foam, but what is there is persistent. Muted aroma of grassy and slight caramel malt. Dry and caramel malt, molasses with some nut elements. Medium, creamy bodied. This is still a quite unique flavored barleywine. This "2009 cellar reserve" bottle is not as dominated by the dry grass malty flavor of the last bottle I tried, but that element is still present. The flavor is somewhat one dimensional, but still intriguing. A somewhat eccentric take on a barleywine and worth sampling every year or so.

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Photo of Stinkypuss
3.97/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale
Mad River Brewing Company

2009 Vintage Bottle

Pours a caramel color with little head, slightly hazy, sticky looking liquid. Aroma of vanilla, caramel, sugar, and alcohol. Smells like a barleywine of moderate intensity. In the taste, sweet toffee, caramel, maple syrup, dates, brown sugar and vanilla. Some wood flavor, possibly from the hops, and lots of sweetness and fruityness. Alcohol is present but has mellowed over time. Mouthfeel is that of a thick medium bodied, syrupy, decently carbonated brew. Overall, a nice sipper that really has gotten better with age.

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Photo of Billolick
4.08/5  rDev +9.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 ounce bottle, 2010 edition, $2.79, purchased as a single from Cable Bev. in Bardonia, NY.

Pours arker amber, with a ruby glow, moderate tan head, fine film, thin collar and ample splatters of lacing.

Bready, sweet malty nose, with honey and vanilla flourishes

Smoth, very mellow, easy drinking and flavorful ABW, with the 10% not anywhere to be tasted. More sweet malts, honey, some ripe fruit, light smoke and drying/balancing hops in the finish.

Very nice, great to savor, wish I bought more then just the one bottle...

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Photo of barczar
3.92/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2010 vintage.

Pours a hazy amber color with a dense half inch tan head that dissipates slowly, leaving little lace.

Caramel malt and pine resiny hops lead the aroma, with a decidedly herbal hop presence. Dark fruits, plums, figs, and alcohol join the party, accompanied by light booze and toasty malt.

Toasted bready malt, caramel, brown sugar open the flavor profile, with dark cherries, raisin, and a fairly strong alcohol taste hitting mid palate. The finish is nicely bitter. Grapefruit and a bit of resin surface as it warms, and the hop character becomes more pronounced.

Body is moderately heavy with medium low carbonation. An alcoholic warmth finishes the mouthfeel.

I expected a touch more hop character in the aroma, but a pretty good beer overall. It's a bit hot, but wouldn't age it too long or the hop flavor could be lost, resulting in an overly sweet brew.

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John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale from Mad River Brewing Company
84 out of 100 based on 357 ratings.